Honda’s Marcus Ericsson turned a spectacular start-line crash into an incredible victory Sunday on the streets of Nashville Tennessee, as Honda NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers and teams dominated the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
In the first of many incidents in the 80-lap contest, Ericsson hit the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ A.J. Foyt Racing Indy car, with Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing machine rising high in the air after making wheel-to-wheel contact with Bourdais. Ericsson was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact, but came back to hold off a previously-dominant Colton Herta and score his second career INDYCAR victory.
Other than Oriol Servia, who led 1/3 of the laps driving the pace car, polesitter Colton Herta led the most racing laps but choked and crashed in Turn 9 with 5 laps to go while running 2nd and running down Ericsson. This brought out the 2nd red-flag, and after the restart Ericsson had no trouble beating his Ganassi teammate Dixon.
Andretti Honda drivers James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay were 3rd and 4th while Graham Rahal rounded out the top-5, giving Honda powered cars a sweep of the top-5.
Best Bumper-Car driver of the race went to Will Power who took out two of his teammates by sending them spinning.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ericsson said. “It just shows in INDYCAR anything can happen. You can never give up. And if you have a good team and a good car, you can still get to victory lane.
“I can’t believe it; I just can’t believe it.”
James Hinchcliffe finished third in the No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda for his best result of the season for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport. His previous best in 2021 was 14th in June at Belle Isle-2. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fourth in the No. 28 DHL Honda as Andretti Autosport put two cars in the top five for the first time this season.
While Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay didn’t have quite the dramatic early laps of the race as Ericsson, both were forced to stop on track when the track was blocked by a multicar incident on Lap 20 that forced the first of two red flags in the 80-lap race. Yet they also rallied to drive into the top four.
Graham Rahal, who was quickest in the race warm up today, rounded out the top five in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda. Like Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones produced his best drive of the season, finishing sixth after starting 26th in the 27-car field in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda. Jones’ previous best result in 2021 was ninth in June at Belle Isle-1.
Alex Palou expanded his championship lead by finishing seventh in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda. He leads Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and six-time and reigning series champion Dixon by 42 points, as Dixon leap-frogged Pato O’Ward into second with his best result in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda since winning Texas-1 in early May.
O’Ward finished 13th in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet – his worst result since the Indianapolis road course race in early May – and fell to third in points, 48 behind Palou.
Ericsson, whose previous win came in June at Belle Isle-1, is fifth in the points, 79 behind Palou. He is just four points behind fourth-place Josef Newgarden, who finished 10th today at his hometown race in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
The race unfolded into a head-to-head duel between Ericsson and Herta over the closing 20 laps after a chaotic opening 60 laps that included seven caution periods.
Ericsson made his final pit stop on Lap 46 and was forced to save fuel and nurse the initially grippier but less durable Firestone alternate “red” tires over the closing laps. Herta made his final stop on Lap 53 for the more durable Firestone primary “black” tires, so he had no fuel concerns to the finish.
But Herta never got a chance to challenge Formula One veteran Ericsson for the lead after he locked up his tires while slowing for Turn 9 after exiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge on Lap 75, hitting the tire barrier hard. Herta was quickest in every pre-race session this weekend on the 11-turn, 2.17-mile street course except for the morning warmup.
“Colton was so fast, as we saw all weekend, so to keep him behind with a lot of fuel save was one of the best performances of my career,” Ericsson said. “I’m sorry he ended up in the fence there. He should be on this podium with us.”
Eight caution periods in the first 60 laps jumbled strategies and kept engineers and strategists on the pit wall almost as busy as drivers on the bumpy circuit that includes two trips across the Cumberland River each lap.
Ericsson was in the pits seven times during the race, three more than fellow podium finishers Dixon and Hinchcliffe, due to damage from his early incident with Bourdais and to serve the stop-and-go penalty he was assessed for avoidable contact in that collision. Ericsson drove up the back of Bourdais’ car, launching his front end into the air, on a restart on Lap 5.
“I want to apologize to Seb there at the start,” Ericsson said. “It was an accident. I thought it was green, and I went, and I couldn’t see that he stopped, so I’m really sorry for that.”
But Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing team – led by strategist Mike O’Gara – made all the right calls on pit stops, and he first took the lead on Lap 33 and then again for good on Lap 56 when Romain Grosjean pitted in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda. Ericsson led 37 laps for the day, two fewer than Herta.
Herta also caught a timely break during his first pit stop on Lap 33, during a caution period triggered by tire barrier contact in Turn 1 by the No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet of Rinus VeeKay. It appeared Herta would return to about the middle of the field for the ensuing restart, as a handful of cars had made pit stops during the numerous cautions earlier in the race.
But the Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car had to slow approaching the VeeKay accident area, as there was only one lane open on track since the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was still clearing VeeKay’s car from the track. That allowed Herta to re-enter the track in fourth place behind leader Ericsson, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe.
Marcus Ericsson (#8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Race winner, his second win of 2021 and second career Indy car victory: “It’s unbelievable. It just goes to show that anything can happen in INDYCAR. You can never give up. If you have a good team, and a good car, you can get to Victory Lane. This one is for all my guys. They repaired my car beautifully [after a start-line crash with Sebastien Bourdais]. The Honda engine was awesome, the power was great all day. I just can’t believe it. Colton [Herta] was so fast all weekend. To keep him behind while also saving fuel, I think was honestly one of my best performances. I’m sorry he [Herta] ended up in the fence there [in a late-race single-car crash], because he should be on this podium. But I’m just so proud of my whole team, I’m so proud and thankful.”
Scott Dixon (#9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Finished second, moves to second in the Drivers’ Championship after 11 of 16 races: “Mentally, I think this was one of the most draining races on the schedule. With all the cautions, and even two red flags, it was really tough to focus on what you needed to do, strategy wise. Kudos to Honda, [teammate] Marcus [Ericsson, race winner] the Chip Ganssi team, and my guys in the pits. We did almost 50 laps on that last set of tires. It was good call, and gained us a bunch of positions, but definitely made the car difficult to hold onto at the end of the race.”
James Hinchcliffe (#29 Andretti Autosports Honda) Finished third, first podium result of 2021: “Thanks to all the fans coming out today, and sticking it out through the cautions and red flags. By the end, it was getting hard to see with the sun going down and a dark visor! But for us, after we got caught up in that early [multi-car collision], my guys called a great strategy to pit when we did. We’ve had a rough year, and have had a lot of things go against us. So I’m really happy things went our way today here in Nashville. It’s nice to be back on the podium.”
|1||8||Marcus Ericsson||80||0.000s||0.0000s||37||18||Honda||331||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|2||9||Scott Dixon||80||1.5596||1.5596||0||2||Honda||368||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|3||29||James Hinchcliffe||80||2.3918||0.8322||0||10||Honda||166||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport|
|4||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||80||2.8015||0.4097||0||14||Honda||177||Andretti Autosport|
|5||15||Graham Rahal||80||4.0833||1.2818||0||13||Honda||286||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|6||18||Ed Jones||80||4.7715||0.6882||0||26||Honda||153||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan|
|7||10||Alex Palou||80||5.5333||0.7618||0||9||Honda||410||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|8||7||Felix Rosenqvist||80||5.9667||0.4334||0||4||Chevy||118||Arrow McLaren SP|
|9||06||Helio Castroneves||80||6.7874||0.8207||0||15||Honda||125||Meyer Shank Racing|
|10||2||Josef Newgarden||80||7.5286||0.7412||0||12||Chevy||335||Team Penske|
|11||45||Santino Ferrucci||80||8.4929||0.9643||0||17||Honda||146||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|12||20||Conor Daly||80||8.8320||0.3391||0||20||Chevy||160||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|13||5||Pato O’Ward||80||9.1207||0.2887||0||8||Chevy||362||Arrow McLaren SP|
|14||12||Will Power||80||9.5956||0.4749||0||11||Chevy||225||Team Penske|
|15||60||Jack Harvey||80||11.0919||1.4963||0||6||Honda||185||Meyer Shank Racing|
|16||51||Romain Grosjean||80||12.2761||1.1842||4||5||Honda||166||Dale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware Racing|
|17||27||Alexander Rossi||80||16.5295||4.2534||0||3||Honda||214||Andretti Autosport|
|19||26||Colton Herta||74||Contact||0.9664||39||1||Honda||275||Andretti Autosport|
|20||52||Cody Ware||70||Contact||1 LAPS||0||27||Honda||21||Dale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware Racing|
|21||22||Simon Pagenaud||68||Contact||1 LAPS||0||7||Chevy||280||Team Penske|
|22||3||Scott McLaughlin||67||13 LAPS||1 LAPS||0||23||Chevy||206||Team Penske|
|23||4||Dalton Kellett||37||Contact||1 LAPS||0||19||Chevy||102||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|24||21||Rinus VeeKay||24||Contact||13 LAPS||0||22||Chevy||263||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|25||30||Takuma Sato||19||Contact||38.3831||0||24||Honda||231||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|26||48||Jimmie Johnson||18||Contact||1.9085||0||25||Honda||61||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|27||14||Sebastien Bourdais||5||Contact||3 LAPS||0os||16||Chevy||160||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
Winner’s average speed: 72.607 mph
Time of Race: 2:18:49.8305
Margin of victory: 1.5596 mph
Cautions: 9 for 33 laps
Lead changes: 4 among 3 drivers
Herta, Colton 1 – 32
Ericsson, Marcus 33 – 44
Herta, Colton 45 – 51
Grosjean, Romain 52 – 55
Ericsson, Marcus 56 – 80
NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings: Palou 410, Dixon 368, O’Ward 362, Newgarden 335, Ericsson 331, Rahal 286, Pagenaud 280, Herta 275, VeeKay 263, Sato 231.